May is World Asthma Month
Why is this so important?
- The most recent global estimate of asthma in adults and children suggests that as many as 334 million people have asthma.
- Our asthma prevalence in SA is among the highest in the world.
- In South Africa, between six and 10% of adults have asthma – according to the South African Medical Journal.
- Asthma is the most common chronic disease among children worldwide and there are 50-million children under the age of 15 living with asthma in sub-Saharan Africa – most of them are in South Africa.
- South Africa is ranked fifth in the world for asthma mortality – yet this is a disease that can be controlled.
- According to the World Health Organisation – over 80% of asthma-related deaths occur in low-and lower-middle-income countries.
The burden is not only in human suffering, but it also represents a significant economic burden on societies and health systems; estimates are that a majority of this future burden will occur in developing, rather than developed, countries
What is Asthma?
- Asthma is one of the most common respiratory complaints in the world today.
- It affects approximately one in ten children (10%) and one in twenty adults (5%).
- It can occur for the first time at any age, even in adulthood.
- Although asthma usually begins before the age of five years, a few children affected will “outgrow” it during their teenage years but it usually persists if contracted in adulthood.
- Asthma tends to run in families, as do related allergic conditions like hay fever and eczema.
- Asthma cannot as yet be cured, but if kept under control, those affected will be able to lead normal lives, enjoying full involvement in sport and all other activities.
What are the Symptoms of Asthma?
Cough, wheeze, tight chest, shortness of breath. These symptoms are often worse at night and after activity/exercise.
How Can Asthma Affect My Life or the Quality of My Life?
- Night-time symptoms disturb sleep. Exercise becomes impaired.
- Work or school days are missed (having a family member or child with asthma also leads to days off work to care for them).
- Acute attacks and symptoms are troublesome, potentially dangerous and costly.
What Starts an Asthma Attack?
The greatest tragedy of asthma is that it is sometimes not recognised and treated, in which case the patient undergoes needless suffering. The exact cause of the asthmatic process is not well understood but it is thought to be triggered off by an allergy or when the lungs are irritated by something in the air. A viral cold or the flu can make asthma symptoms temporarily worse and this effect may last for up to six weeks after the illness.
Asthma attacks are most commonly triggered by allergies to airborne particles of house-dust mites, grass or tree pollens, fungal spores and skin flakes from furry animals such as cats and dogs. Certain foods and additives can (rarely) also trigger off asthma when eaten.
Pollution in the environment, especially cigarette smoke, car exhaust fumes and certain chemical gases can aggravate an asthma attack. Even children will be affected if they passively breathe their parents’ cigarette smoke into their lungs.
Sport and exercise
Sport and exercise, particularly in cold weather, can trigger an asthma attack. However, with the correct treatment asthma can be well controlled so asthmatics should not avoid sport or exercise. About 10% of Olympic athletes have asthma.
Emotions such as excitement, anger, fear and laughter can all aggravate asthma.
Certain commonly used medicines such as aspirin and other anti-inflammatory tablets may trigger asthma. Be cautious with using “beta-blocker” blood pressure tablets and eye drops for glaucoma as they can also trigger asthma in adult life.
Air pollutants from highly industrialised areas, cigarette smoking, and motor vehicles exhaust fumes, changing feeding practices (refined foods) and changing fuel for combustion (anthracites and coal) have been implicated in the increased prevalence of asthma.
Prolonged exposure too many substances is regarded to be harmful to the lungs, and by law such occupation-induced asthma is compensable. These include organic dust (wood, grain, grain flour, and tobacco), isocyanates, formaldehyde, vapour, fumes (amines), metals (platinum, nickel, cobalt, and vanadium), soldering and welding fumes, epoxy resin and acrylic acid and acrylates.
How is Asthma Treated?
Asthma cannot be completely cured no matter what anyone says, but with the right treatment, most asthmatics will lead completely normal lives. The aim of treatment should be to make the lungs and breathing tubes as normal as possible so that there are minimal symptoms and as little disruption to ordinary life as possible.
Where Can I Get More Information on Asthma?
Talk to your doctor or pharmacist. Alternatively, visit the Allergy Society of South Africa (ALLSA) website or the National Asthma Education Programme (NAEP) website.